September: My first day at college. It was strange to be back in the town I’d once called home, after being away for almost a year… it didn’t feel like home anymore… just alien. The streets were familiar, but they didn’t feelrightto me.
A group of my old friends had seen me and I barely recognised them. This part of my life was merely a distant memory. My life was still in Scotland… in the form of a small human being… James.
I found the room on my timetable easy enough and looked out into the sea of familiar faces. Some stared back at me, expressionless. Others gasped in surprise and spoke to each other in speeded whispers. I squeezed my way through the crowded room to an empty desk in the top corner of the classroom.
The conversations around me continued, the odd wandering eye staring in my direction. I ignored the glances and sat in silence. I didn’twantto be here. I felt like the new girl all over again – like I had done in Scotland – despite the fact that the majority of people here already knew me. Wouldn’t anybody just say hi to me as if I’d never gone away? Apparently not…
My first lesson was Art. Would I know anybody in there? Would Irememberanyone in there? I hadn’t a clue. I just wanted this day to be over before it had even started.
I found the Art studio easily and headed inside. At first, I didn’t recognise any of the faces… except one.
He stood, leaning against the sink, smiling his familiar, mesmerising smile. His hair was an inch or two longer but other than that, he hadn’t changed much. I must have looked suspicious staring at him but I couldn’t help myself.
He looked up and his gaze met mine. His expression changed… shock… surprise? The chatter and laughter around vanished. Everyone’s mouths were moving but no sound came out. The only sound that could be heard was the echo of his feet hitting against the floor towards me. Time froze. There he was. The guy I’d seen every day in James… Ben…
“Casey?” he questioned, confusion spread across his face and circling his words. He stood just in front of me, less than a foot away. I could feel his breath on my cheeks. I smiled weakly,
“Surprised?” I asked, rhetorically. He blinked at the sound of my voice and embraced me in a big bear hug. He smelled musty, but in a good way. His chest was warm and I could hear his heartbeat thudding against my cheek, underneath his shirt.
“You didn’t call.” It wasn’t a question. It was a statement. He released me from his embrace and held my shoulders at arm’s length.
“I know,” I replied, “I never found time.”
“Didn’t you have any Internet connection?”
“No.” I lied.
“What are you doing back?”
“I said I’d be back in a year…” this was true. Hadn’t he remembered?
“Oh,” he answered, “I hadn’t thought you’d meant exactly a year… as in, to the day.” I stared at him, baffled. Had it really been exactly a year since I’d left? Time had flown by quick.
“I guess it’s just coincidence…”
“I guess so…” he muttered. An older man with greying black hair and rounded glasses entered the studio then. He wore an outfit that mostly consisted of different shades of brown; an off-white cotton shirt, a grey-brown woollen cardigan, a moss-green tie, hazelnut corduroy trousers and immaculately clean and shiny brown lace ups… the teacher.
“Quiet everyone,” he shouted above the noise. It subsided to a murmur and then absolute silence, like a dial turning the music down on a radio. I turned my back on Ben to face the man in charge of us. I didn’t hear his footsteps move and smiled to myself. Ben had not left me…
“My name is Mr. Gregory Newton, but I insist that you call me Greg. I don’t want any of this ‘sir’ malarkey. You’re young adults, not children.
“When you stepped into this studio, you immediately promised me that the standard of the work you produce for the next two years is A* quality. You are the best of the best in this class and, as such, you will prove this to me… else you will be removed.
“I’m not a strict man, but I am a man who does not allow failure. Do I make myself clear?” the whole room fell as silent as the dead of night. Mr. Newton – I couldn’t bring myself to calling him Greg – laughed, lightening the atmosphere by a degree, “I don’t care where you sit, so long as you work co-operatively with the people on your table.”
Everyone began moving to various tables, making sure that they were with their friends. I moved my weight over to an un-occupied table in the corner, by the supplies cupboard. I was alone for what appeared to be hours. Seconds seemed like much longer periods of time, more like days, and the hands on the clock didn’t seem to be running any faster either.
The chair beside me screeched against the floor beneath it, startling me and breaking my trance. I looked up to see Ben’s smiling face.
“Didn’t think I’d leave you on your own, did you?” he teased, sitting down on the chair and pulling it so his legs lay under the desk. I smiled weakly.
“Thank you,” I replied, unsure of what else to say.
“No, thank you; for coming back. Now I’ve got someone to natter with in Art again. Tell meeverythingthat I’ve missed in the last year.”
10 Months Earlier
Saturday, July 21st, 2007
"For the last time, Amanda, will you please just shut up andleave me alone!” I shouted down the phone. I hung up, not wanting to hear another blubbering plea of forgiveness. I’d had enough of her childish, self indulgent ways and would not stand for it anymore. If she wanted to get up to no good with Kyle Stratton then she could.
I threw my phone to my bed and placed my face into my hands. I would not cry, I would not! I wouldnotlet a silly, little,stupidgirl make me cry. I could feel them building up but they would not show their slippery, wet faces. I twisted my fingers around the hair that had fallen down over my forehead and held onto it tight, almost pulling it out; I needed a haircut, it was starting to look uncontrollably curly. I let go and sighed. No. I wouldnotlet her pull me down. I would not!
Besides, it was the summer holidays and there was a party on that I simply couldn’t, and wasn’tallowed,to miss. Emelia Buxton had a birthday party every year and a lot of planning was put into them. Since I could remember, she’d always invited every person in our year group and this year was no exception. Her birthday parties were renowned for being the most anticipated event of the year and everybody who was anybody was obliged to attend. Also, the fact that we’d both known each other since we were in nappies meant that no excuse in the book was valid when it came to giving a reason why I couldn’t or wouldn’t attend.
Emelia had also let loose that her older brother, Ashton – who was nineteen – was providing alcohol for the party so this was also averygood reason to go. I planned on getting absolutely hammered at that party and have a good time with everyone I knew. Also, it would be a good distraction from Amanda. Whether she actually turned up to the party or not, after our latest split, I would not think about her at all or let her bother me for any given reason. I just wanted to have a good time as a single guy.
The party was already in full swing when I arrived. Faces of people I’d grown up with smiled and greeted me as I passed them in the hallway, through to the kitchen and then out to the back garden. Emelia had really outdone herself this year. Her parents had hired out three inflatable attractions including: a classic adult sized bouncy castle, a twenty foot tall inflatable slide and a large inflatable sumo wrestling ring complete with sumo suits – I would definitely be trying that at some point in the evening.
Emelia’s parents earned quite a fair bit of money and had been able to afford a large house on the outskirts of the countryside, meaning that there were hardly any neighbours around to complain about the volume of the music that pulsated across the vast space of garden or the large house. It was the ideal venue for an extravagant party and brilliant for noisy and rowdy teenagers.
“Ben!” I heard a girl cry from behind me. I turned to face them and smiled down at the birthday girl, “You made it!”
“Of course I did. I wouldn’t miss it for the world! Happy Birthday, Emelia.” I replied, holding my arms out to give her a birthday hug. She accepted eagerly and near enough fell into my arms. She’d already got a head start in the drinking department and was full of giggles.
“Whoops! Sorry, Ben.” She apologized, laughing her head off. I joined her laughter and removed my arms from around her. Her eyes met someone else’s across the garden and she bound over, all smiles away, to talk to them. I shook my head and chuckled to myself. I surveyed the area and took in all the different people who had turned up. There were a lot of people from the year below us that had been invited and a handful from the year above as well as some older people, who I assumed were friends of Ashton.
I spotted Ashton in the doorway to the kitchen with a can of beer in his hand chatting away to a girl his age with red hair. Ashton was a friend of my brother, George, and I’d known him for quite a few years now so I made my way over to him to say hey.
“Ben,” Ashton announced, as I approached him. He smiled a big toothy grin and wrapped his arm around my shoulders, pulling me into a quick hug. The red head smiled weakly at me, I’d obviously interrupted something, “how a’ you doing, man?”
“I’m good thanks, Ash. Yourself?” I replied. He unwrapped his arm from me and took a swig from his can.
“Never better, dude, never better,” he answered, smiling down at the red head beside him, “Ben, this is Holly, my girlfriend.”
“Hey,” she said with a hint of shyness in her voice but full of warmth all the same, “You’re George Russo’s brother, aren’t you? I knew him years back.”
“Yeah, I am. I’m surprised he hasn’t come tonight actually if he knew that you were going to be here, Ash.” I answered, turning back to Ashton.
“Well, hewasinvited, but he said that he had too much work to do for University. Also, he didn’t want to be surrounded by all of my kid sister’s little friends. HA!” he laughed a loud, manly laugh. Holly laughed too and I joined also, “oh, I don’t know. Hey, do you want a drink, mate? There’s plenty in the kitchen. Take whatever you want, but don’t drink too much, eh.” Ashton winked at me and laughed again, turning back to Holly and leaning in to kiss her quickly on the cheek. I laughed and nodded goodbye before leaving the two of them for the direction of the kitchen. The room was crowded with people, all with a can of something in their hands, but there was still plenty enough left to keep us all going until the early hours of the morning. I reached over the counter and snatched up a can of cider to start me off, I’d move onto the stronger stuff later on. I opened the can and lifted it to my lips taking the first sip of my first drink of the night. The party had only just started.
I was onto my fourth can now and the effects of the alcohol had set in. I wasn’t drunk, nowhere near, but I was feeling rather tipsy and quite merry. I’d had a go on the inflatable sumo wrestling ring and had knocked out Tom Shepherd, who had been drinking a lot more than I had, with the first blow. Everyone watching burst into loud applause on my achievement and had patted my back approvingly once I’d passed the suit onto the ring’s next victim. Tom was fine with no major injuries, apart from feeling extremely dizzy and slightly queasy.
I was having a good time and Amanda had not showed her face at the party, which was a bonus. I downed the remainder of my can and made my way back to the kitchen, discarding the empty can into one of the black bin bags dotted around the garden. I approached the drinks counter and reached for the last can of cider. Just as my hand reached the can, another person’s hand touched mine quickly before removing it instantly. I looked up and saw Casey Stewart staring back at me, looking rather embarrassed.
I’d known Casey since primary school and she was in my Art class; we both sat on the same table. We talked to each other in our lessons together but I didn’t really know her that well. She’d always kept herself to herself growing up and hadn’t gotten involved with any serious kind of drama, unlike Amanda. Although, I’d known Casey most of my life, it was almost like I’d never seen her before. She looked… different; different in a good way. She was out of our hideous school uniform, for a start, and was dressed in a tight and relatively short navy blue dress. Her hair was down and curled in natural waves. Her makeup was simple but dazzling and the extra height her heels added made her legs look gorgeous.Shelooked gorgeous. I mean, she wasn’t an unattractive girl – she was actually really quite pretty – but, until now, I’d not really taken much notice. Who was this girl that stood before me? It certainly couldn’t have been Casey, the girl who I sat across in Art, surely not. Yet her she stood in front of me.
“Hey.” I said, smiling wide. Her cheeks blushed bright pink just then. This made me chuckle a little; she looked so innocent.
“I’m sorry,” she murmured. I looked at her, confused by her statement, “for almost taking your drink.” She clarified.
“Ah, no worries,” I replied, I looked down at the can in my hand and handed it over to her, “here, you take it.”
“No, you got to it first. You have it.” She answered, shaking her head and raising her hands in refusal. She smiled slightly and her eyes sparkled.
“Honestly, you can have it. I was thinking on moving onto something a little stronger anyway. Here.” I took her hand and placed the can in it. Her posture froze slightly as she gazed up at me bewildered. She smiled again weakly and gingerly took a large swig from the can, spilling some down her chin; this was not her first can of the night. She blushed to herself but laughed to herself, turning slightly away from me. I laughed too and reached over for a half full bottle of vodka.
“How’s about we go and find some shot glasses, eh?” I asked her, smiling wide.
“Sounds good, let me just finish this.” She replied, starting to relax more and not feel as embarrassed as she was before. She downed the rest of the can, which was still more than two thirds full, crushed the empty can in her hands and threw it into a black bin bag. Wow. Surely this couldn’t be quiet, innocent little Casey Stewart? I felt my phone vibrate in my jeans pocket. I pulled it out and read the name that flashed on the screen: AMANDA. I grimaced at her name and rejected the phone call. I turned my phone off and shoved it back into my pocket. I glanced back over to Casey whose face looked worried, “everything okay?” she asked.
“Just peachy,” I answered, not peachy at all, “just Amanda, that’s all.”
“Oh.” She responded. There was a brief awkward silence between the two of us.
“She’s just…” I began, “she’s just getting at me, you know? She’s too much to handle. She’s always thinking of no one but herself and I’m sick of it. All I ask of her is that she take my thoughts into consideration and at least take me seriously. I mean… did shehonestlythink she could go behind my back and get off with Kyle Strattonwithoutme eventually finding out? Does she think I’mstupidor something?” The effects of the alcohol were starting to kick in more now as I let myself release all my inner feelings and thoughts on Amanda to Casey. Normally, I would have just kept it all locked up inside but not tonight. It all came spilling out in one go and I instantly felt like maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned anything, even if it had felt good to get it off my chest.
“If she’s treating you like dirt then you shouldn’t give her the time of day. She doesn’t deserve you, Ben. If she can do something like that then she truly and honestly doesn’t deserve you. You’re a good guy, anyone can see that, and you deserve the best.” She said, slurring slightly but not enough for anyone to judge her in any way. Yes she’d been drinking – we both had – but she had a point. I was a good guy and I’d done nothing wrong. She was rotten for me and I could clearly see this.
“You’re right, Casey. She doesn’t deserve me. I’m a good guy and I deserve a good girl, not some sleazy tart likeher.” I exclaimed. Some people close to us turned their heads in our direction at the commotion I was making. I felt slightly embarrassed and smiled weakly at Casey. She really did look pretty tonight…beautifuleven, “thanks for listening.”
“No problem,” she answered, “I must say though, at least talk to her. Not now, but when you’re ready. She at least needs to know how you feel and that she has no right to treat you think she has, right? Anyway, let’s forget about all of this and find some place to finish that bottle of vodka, eh?” she smiled wide, took hold of my hand and led me towards the hallway and up the stairs, a smile on both our faces the whole way.
To: Casey Stewart <firstname.lastname@example.org>
From: Ben Russo <email@example.com>
Just thought I’d say thanks for last Saturday. It really helped to talk about everything that had happened and finally getting it all off my chest. I know you could have found better things to do than listen to me go on about mine and Amanda’s problems but I’m really glad that you did stick around and talk with me. I can’t thank you enough.
I did what you said and I confronted her. I told her how I felt about everything and how I felt she treated me. There was a lot of crying, on both our parts, and she promised that she would never cheat on me again. I also promised that I would never cheat on her either, which was pretty awkward because we… but that’s different because technically Amanda and I had broken up.
So, the slate is clean. Amanda and I are back together and I thank it all to you and that bottle of vodka.
Sent: Tuesday, 24thJuly, 2007 14:26
To: Ben Russo <firstname.lastname@example.org>
From: Casey Stewart <email@example.com>
Subject: RE: Thanks
No problem. Glad to help.
Sent: Tuesday, 24thJuly, 2007 14:34